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City Council nixes transit plan

By Taylor Wizner, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 9, 2012

After delaying this week’s meeting due to the election, the Ann Arbor City Council reconvened Thursday night and voted unanimously to end the city’s involvement in a countywide transit agreement established by the Ann Arbor Transit Authority.

The transit authority will return to the previous Act 55 model, which calls for a city-oriented public transit model.

The meeting will be the organization’s last before the newly elected councilmembers replace outgoing members. On Tuesday, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje was elected for his seventh consecutive term as the city’s mayor. Councilmember-elect Chuck Warpehoski will replace outgoing councilmember Carsten Hohnke (D–Ward 5) at next week’s meeting after winning the race to represent Ward 5.

All councilmembers, except Sandi Smith (D–Ward 1), were present for the meeting. The council members heard public commentary and then immediately went into closed session to discuss collective bargaining rights, where they remained for about 50 minutes.

At the end of the evening, the Council discussed a resolution to withdraw from the new public transit authority, sponsored by councilmembers Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), Chris Taylor (D–Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4), Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) and Hieftje (D).

The four-party agreement between the city, the Ann Arbor Transit Authority, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County would have provided additional transit services throughout the county and surrounding areas.

The Council put the resolution on the agenda after several communities in the four-party agreement backed out of the countywide transit system during the 30-day period the communities had to decide if they wanted to join. Councilmembers Briere, Taylor, Higgins, Kunselman and Hieftje sponsored the resolution to back away from the plan.

Council members expressed their frustration that other communities rejected the project after ongoing efforts to push it forward to fruition.

“This whole effort basically spent a lot of money to basically bring us back to the beginning, and that’s unfortunate,” Kunselman said. “I’m glad that we are doing this tonight because it’s important that the Council that created this effort is also going to close it. The good news is that we will be able to start fresh.”

Councilmember Hoenke said he was upset that the other municipalities rejected the authority, which he thought would have been a benefit to the communities.

“I’m a little disappointed in the townships,” Hoenke said. “I think a countywide transit authority would have added a lot to our community … I think this going outside of what we hope.”

Lumm retorted, claiming that communities need to make decisions that are in their best interest.

“You have to trust them to do what is important to the residents,” Lumm said.

Councilmember Briere said the dissolution of the current transit authority would leave board members from other communities without a position since the citywide authority does not allow for members that are not residents. She said the Council should decide whether to include non-residents or not.

“It has to be one or the other,” Briere said. “Either we want the members of the AATA board to be residents of Ann Arbor or we want to open it up to other jurisdictions too.”

Mayor Hieftje said this conversation wouldn’t be the last on public transit.